Richard S. Cunanan
August 18, 2016     |    

Tribute To The Red Triangle

Alpina issues a revisit to their past.

Alpina is releasing the Alpina KM-710, which is a reinterpretation of their early-20th Century Navy Service wristwatch.

Alpina is an independent, family-owned Swiss watch brand, and they specialize in the creation of the Swiss sports watch. Switzerland is uniquely suited to the use of sports watches, partially because of their long timepiece-oriented heritage, but also because their geographical location lends itself to physical exertion. Well, that’s not entirely true: their geographical location ALSO lends itself to staying in your home and not venturing outside at all, ever, for something like five months out of the year. Which is, ironically, one reason the watch industry really took off in Switzerland. The winters are cold, and the terrain is formidable, and so rather than go outside to tend livestock, all of which would have died anyway, the Swiss took to staying indoors and finding something else to do in their barns, which ended up being watchmaking.

But the terrain really DOES lend itself to sports-like behavior too. Because to get anywhere besides your own barn, you had to trek through snow-covered woods, and ski across snow-covered fields, and basically just deal with snow in general. Snow, snow, snow. But, they went anyway, because let’s face it, nobody’s barn is THAT nice, that you want to spend five months straight sitting in it. You’d much rather move around and go visit something else, even if it’s just your neighbor’s virtually identical barn.

So the idea of a Swiss sports watch is right in keeping with the place. (“Switzerland — if you’re going to go anywhere, we’re going to make you work for it.”) It’s beautiful but demanding terrain, kind of like dating a movie star. Only hopefully dating isn’t that cold. Anyway, the exertion involved is sure to keep you fit, and that’s what sports is all about, and if you’re Swiss you’re going to want to time everything, and then you’re making Swiss sports watches, and now we’re talking Alpina.

“The KM-710 is a reissue of the brand’s watch that was adopted by the German Navy”

Alpina was founded in the year 1883, and they’ve spent the following 130 years making innovative mechanical designs and patenting them. In 1938, they created the Alpina 4, which was pretty much their introducing the Swiss sports watch as we know it. But their work has held many landmarks, and some of those coincided with some very noteworthy — and occasionally very destructive — world events in history.

The KM-710 is a reissue of the brand’s watch that was adopted by the German Navy before and during World War Two. KM is an abbreviation of ‘Kriegsmarine’ which is the term for the German Navy. (“Krieg” means “War.” “Marine” means “Water” which you probably didn’t need me to tell you.) The Kriegsmarine took up the Alpina watches back in the day — among others — because the watches were tough and precise, which is pretty much what the Germans wanted their military to be. In 1934, Germany was undergoing massive military rearmament. (They weren’t supposed to, but they were.) And they were equipping their army with all sorts of specialized timepieces. They needed service watches with highly legible dials and hands. The Kriegsmarine also needed sea chronometers, and navigator’s watches, and stop-watches and wall clocks. And it didn’t stop there — the German military wanted exceptionally precise timepieces for their personnel whose specialties called for more-than-usual accuracy. People like officers, and radio and telephone operators, and transport and engineering personnel, and of course, artillery. (Fun fact: Artillery does a thing called time-on-target, which involves several cannon batteries timing their firing sequence so that ALL the shells land at exactly the same moment. So it hits with absolutely no warning. It’s tough to coordinate, and it requires split-second accuracy and timing, but it can be devastating. Okay, maybe as Facts go, that’s not really a Fun one.)

These watches were popular from the very beginning – the soldiers were issued them as a loan, but many of them ended up just buying them outright. But of course, the massive demand meant a scarcity of supply, and, let’s be honest, not every watch you issue to a soldier is gonna make its way back home again. As a result, the Alpina watches from that time period are not easy to come by.

So, they’ve decided to issue some more. They’ve also upgraded them a bit. Among other things, they’ve made the case a little larger. The 1930 and 1940-era Alpina watches had cases that were 32mm to 35mm in diameter. These days that would be a little small, both because tastes have changed and because the average human size has gotten bigger. The new watches reflect that. They also, incidentally, reflect our increased awareness of hazardous materials and safety standards, so the luminescent material on the dials and hands is completely safe. Apparently, in the old timepieces, they used actual radium on the watch faces. This was, well, way way more toxic than people today would stand for, so, no more radioactive material on the dials! Go, Alpina!

The new KM-710 takes its inspiration from the design of the earlier watches, but the new timepieces are more rugged, larger, and, as we said, less radioactive. The new AL-710 automatic movement is also an upgrade. It’s got a vibration rate of 28,800 vibrations per hour, and a 42-hour power reserve when fully wound. The date indicator, a subdial rather than a window, is located at 6 o’clock, a nostalgic touch that echoes the earlier models.

As Alpina takes this historic watch forward into history, we can only applaud, and be pleased that now this long-sought-after timepiece will be more available to fans of the brand. Of course, the original will still enjoy a great popularity among hardcore collectors, but now at least those Alpina enthusiasts who like the brand’s look and history can treat themselves without necessarily having to pay vintage-watch prices.


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